How to Cultivate Company Culture

Coast Hotels & Resorts’ Pia Collins offers five keys for developing a better workplace and workforce

Collins’s entrance into HR was, by her own admission, a “happy accident.” The executive director of people and culture at Coast Hotels & Resorts initially just wanted to enter the hotel industry, and fortuitously her first role was in HR. The diversity of the job, the teamwork, the one-on-one interactions with employees across all levels—she loves it all. Her passion is helping people recognize their value and then developing their potential through coaching and training.

1. Invest in your people

Pia Collins was named Coast Hotels & Resorts executive director of people and culture in June 2012, just six months after current president Robert Pratt was named to his position. It signified a new era for Canada’s largest hotel brand, and the executive team understood it was time for change—that doing the same thing they’d been doing wouldn’t result in continued growth.

Collins arrived with 10 years of multidisciplinary experience. She was known for her coaching, leadership development, and willingness to view weaknesses as opportunity for growth. It was these very attributes she built upon when deciding how she wanted to reshape the hotel chain’s culture and approach to its employees—or “ambassadors,” as they’re known at Coast.

“If we want our ambassadors to have an impact, we have to give them the help, education, and guidance to make that a reality,” Collins says. “It’s about investing in our people and respecting what they bring to the table. I don’t just want to teach skills but create space for people to really develop as leaders, no matter what their title is. Our ideology is about being open and sharing ideas to make our culture better. That’s how you set people up for success.”

2. Avoid change for change’s sake

Changing a company’s culture takes a long time. A trap that many fall into is implementing numerous small changes that don’t really result in actual change. Rather than just building on existing policies or attempting to start from scratch, Collins decided to start small: she planted a seed in the minds of the ambassadors.

“I asked our ambassadors to think about how they’re accountable to the company and their team, and how their specific role impacts the overall organization,” Collins says. “You can’t change the culture until you change the mind-set. I’ve seen the shift. There’s an understanding that it’s no longer good enough to just show up and do your job. We’re all part of moving the organization forward, and we’re all here to provide value. I want everyone to ask themselves each day, ‘How do I bring value?’”

3. Let the ambassadors shape the culture

When ambassadors understand how their role impacts the overall organization, there is a sense of ownership over the success of the company. Cultivating that passion is the best way to shape the company’s culture. “Ambassadors are really the ones shaping the culture,” Collins says. “Company culture is literally defined by the people you hire. Their passion for the hospitality industry is what shapes things. Human resources provides the framework.”

If ambassadors are being asked to question how they provide value, Collins says it’s only fair that she and her HR team question what it looks like to support ambassadors in their quest to provide value. “My job and the role of HR is to facilitate change and to help people do their best at their job through things like training and coaching,” she says. “Gone are the days where HR dictates culture. We all play a role, and our ambassadors are leading the way.”

4. Have an executive team that gets it

Nothing kills a company’s culture quicker than having an executive team that doesn’t practice what the company preaches. According to Collins, when an executive’s actions say, “You do this, but I’ll do what I want,” not only is it disrespectful to the organization, but it also sends the message that the values the company espouses aren’t important enough to abide by.

“You want an executive team that lives by the culture every day,” Collins says. “Thankfully, we have a president who understands the need to shift our culture and understands the importance of adopting our values and our belief in personal accountability to make that happen. It has to start at the very top.”

5. Hire the right people

From the executive team on down, if the right people aren’t in the right places, success is elusive at best.

“Hiring the right people isn’t just about hiring around key competencies,” Collins says. “Key competencies can be taught, but hiring someone that doesn’t gel with the culture or who isn’t fundamentally right for the role will never work. It’s important to think outside of the box, think outside of just matching skills, and consider future potential. This approach will change how you develop job positions and how you hire.”